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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Another Poem at Everydayweirdness

The good folks at Everydayweirdness are publishing another of my poems - right now, today! (September 29, 2010) They're paying me for it, so why don't you go read it, eh?

Sorry, that came out all wrong.

It would mean a lot to me if you were to read it. Thank you.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

I Don't Know if This is the Right Time to Tell You This

Of course it's the right time! 

I have another poem being published online - tomorrow (September 29) at Everydayweirdness.  I'd really be appreciative you'd check it out.

The font is
Spatha Serif.
Click the picture to see it enlarged.

Faith Not Magic

If you like it, you can download the song here.

I used a number of sounds from The Freesound Project including:

Cymbal crash
Plucked Guitar String

Monday, September 27, 2010

State Fair Swings


Anthirium, also known as the Flamingo flower, Little Boys Flower or Painted Tongue.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Psalm 91 - Can We Find that Secret Place of The Most High?

As I was reading and researching Psalm 91 for today’s sermon I began to find a story about the 91st psalm repeated over and over on numerous websites, in the exact same words (or only slightly varied) each time.

A story from World War I tells about the 91st Infantry Brigade of the U.S. Expeditionary Army. When it was preparing to enter combat in Europe, most of the men were "green soldiers" who had never seen combat. Its commander, a devout Christian, called an assembly of his men where he gave each a little card on which was printed the 91st Psalm. They agreed to recite the Soldiers' Psalm daily.

The 91st Brigade was engaged in three of the bloodiest battles of WW I: Chateau Thierry, Belle Wood, and the Argonne. While other American units similarly engaged had up to 90% casualties, the 91st Brigade did not suffer a single combat related casualty!

Because of this story Psalm 91 is frequently described as the “soldier’s psalm” and as the “Ultimate Shield,” and you can find Psalm 91 devotional booklets to be distributed to soldiers to keep them safe.

Isn’t that story amazing? Isn’t it just unbelievable?

Exactly. It is unbelievable, because there was no 91st Brigade in the U.S. Expeditionary Army. Its commander wasn’t a devout Christian. They didn’t recite the 91st Psalm every morning. They didn’t fight in three of the bloodiest battles of World War One, and they didn’t avoid the massive casualties that every unit on all sides of that horrible war suffered. The story is not true.

But stories have a way of comforting people. We tell stories and we want to believe them. We’d like to believe that there is some kind of miraculous power in the words of scripture that can preserve us from death and calamity. So these kinds of stories circulate. The story is passed on from person to person, are forwarded in emails to all the names in our address books. The story gets copied into books of sermon illustrations for preachers and is shared in Sunday morning sermons, and the story continues to circulate.

It seems that this is the kind of preaching, the kind of story that people want to hear. People want a faith that produces demonstrable results. We want a faith that will keep us safe. We want our faith to keep our children safe. We want our faith to protect the men and women serving in the military. And most of all, people want a faith that is simple. Simple. Simple. Simple.

We want it to be as simple as a daily recitation of this psalm, of these few verses. And this isn’t faith. This is magic. What we want is magic. We want a charm that will put a protective hedge of God’s power around us so that we won’t have to endure suffering or illness or disease. In reality, we don’t want faith. We want magic.

We want no complexity or ambiguity in our faith. We want yes and no, black and white, this or that without reservation.

And Psalm 91 certainly seems to offer that. On the surface, by itself Psalm 91 could be read as an unconditional and unreserved promise in the Bible that God will protect the faithful from every kind of terror and trouble. This and many other parts of the bible reflect that attitude – that the good receive goodness and blessing while the wicked receive only toil and curses. Call it karma, call it fate, call it providence, this idea permeated the ancient world, and still does even today. We find this attitude in Job’s so-called friends and their no-so-comforting words.

Job had been a good man, a righteous man, yet because of a cosmic wager he lost all that he had – he lost his fields and flocks, his houses and his children. His goodness and his faith were no shield against disaster. When his so-called friends came to comfort him in his grief they exhorted him to repent of whatever sin had caused these calamities in his life. They reasoned, like so many do, that if Job were a good and honest man he would receive blessing and protection. That he lost everything was evidence of his depravity. Because if Job were good then:

He [God] will deliver you from six calamities;
yes, in seven no evil will touch you.
In time of famine he will redeem you from death,
and in time of war from the power of the sword.
You will be protected from malicious gossip,
and will not be afraid of the destruction when it comes.
You will laugh at destruction and famine
and need not be afraid of the beasts of the earth.
For you will have a pact with the stones of the field,
and the wild animals will be at peace with you.
And you will know that your home will be secure,
and when you inspect your domains, you will not be missing anything.
You will also know that your children will be numerous,
and your descendants like the grass of the earth.
You will come to your grave in a full age,
As stacks of grain are harvested in their season.
And they were quite confident of this; there could be no other explanation.

Look, we have investigated this, so it is true.
Hear it, and apply it for your own good.
(Job 5: 19 – 27)
And many preachers and religious leaders –either unscrupulous or unqualified – have preached Psalm 91 in exactly this way – as a universal promise of divine deliverance from every terrifying situation. These ministers, either in ignorance or in malice preach that God’s faithful have a special immunity to evil.

I say they do this either in ignorance - because they haven’t taken the time to diligently study this text and to compare it with the rest of the bible – or in malice – because they are attempting to manipulate and deceive the people of God for their own gain. They are like the false prophets of the Old Testament who told the kings exactly what they wanted to hear, rather than a true word from the Lord, prophesying “peace and safety,” when danger and destruction were just over the horizon. (Jeremiah 14:13 – 15)

Psalm 91 was probably written as a Royal psalm – a psalm for the king of Israel. The psalmist describes his situation as being enthroned in the shelter of Elyon – The Most High. The king is protected by God. The king is defended by God. No arrows will pierce him. No demons will harm him. No disease will afflict him. The king is defended by God because the King takes shelter, takes refuge in Yahweh. And what is more, the king will see his enemies fall to the side, and will see them punished.

This is, by itself, the simple faith we want. The good are protected, the wicked punished. The good live long and healthy lives, gain wealth and die happy. The wicked get their just deserts, reaping the mischief that they themselves have sown.

But we must resist this simplistic kind of interpretation. We need to examine this psalm in a fuller context. It helps us that Psalm 91 enters directly into the story of Jesus

At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry he was lead into the wilderness, into the lonely desert where he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days and at the end of them he was hungry. The devil came and tempted him to use his divine power to turn some stones laying nearby into loafs of bread, but Jesus refused. The devil then led Jesus up to a very high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world and promised to give all authority to him if he would but worship the devil. But, again, Jesus refused. Then the devil led Jesus to the city of Jerusalem and to the top of the temple and encouraged him to throw himself down because it was written in scripture that

He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully;
they will lift you up in their hands
so that you will not strike you foot against a stone. (Luke 4: 1 – 13)
But, once again, Jesus refused. Jesus refused that kind of simplistic interpretation of Psalm 91 that says that God will, without qualification, protect us from any danger. The Devil quoted the sacred scripture of Psalm 91 to Jesus, encouraging him to take advantage of God’s unconditional, unqualified promise of protection. But Jesus refused that kind of interpretation – both here in this specific episode and in his life as a whole.

Jesus’ life – or his death rather – certainly wouldn’t seem to indicate an unqualified unconditional divine protection of God’s faithful. Jesus suffered the pain and the humiliation of the most excruciating of deaths. Shouldn’t he, if anyone, have had God’s divine protection? But perhaps Jesus’ life and mission aren’t the best place to look for help in understanding this passage.

What if we look at the lives of Jesus’ followers, his disciples? Again, if we look at the lives of the apostles – those men who were faithful to the message of God’s salvation, were devoted followers, were upright righteous – yet they all, excepting John, endured much suffering before dying a martyr’s death. And John, while he escaped the martyr’s end, he too endured a long imprisonment and torture. These faithful did not seem to have an unqualified, unconditional promise of divine protection.

So… what does this mean for us? What can Psalm 91 mean for us today? Can we find that secret place of The Most High?

Jesus told his followers that in this world they would have trouble. (John 16:33) Trouble, disaster, pain, suffering, sickness, abuse, scorn and humiliation, all this would be theirs. They would not have a divinely granted immunity to these things. They would have to face them, endure them, but not alone. Jesus told his followers that they would, indeed, face trouble and suffering, but they were to take courage because Jesus had overcome the world.

We are to have courage and faith – not easy magic.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Clouds over the Lake

Thunderstorm Empty Factory

I wield the flail of the lashing hail,
And whiten the green plains under,
And then again I dissolve it in rain,
And laugh as I pass in thunder.
    -from The Cloud by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Click the picture to see it enlarged.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Two Days of Rain

You can, if you like, download this song here.

To record it I used sounds from the Freesound Project.
Rain and Thunder
Dropped Spanner
Piano Chords

The font in the picture is May Queen

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Midnight Fairy Dance (Mushrooms in the Yard)

Late last night, after the rain stopped, I heard this song. I threw on some clothes and my shoes and went out to investigate. That's when I saw them, dancing beneath a mushroom that had sprung up in the wet darkness of the yard, those fairy lights. I watched for several moments, entranced by their song. But they noticed me and flew away. I'm going out again tonight to see if I can hear them singing again.

You can download it here.

In this song I used some samples from The Freesound Project.
Cold 3
Sound Singing 3

All Mushrooms are Edible...

 As it is difficult to accurately identify a safe mushroom without proper training and knowledge, it is advised that you  assume that a wild mushroom is poisonous and do not consume it.

Photo taken in my back yard after two days of rain. Manipulated in photoshop. Click the picture to see it enlarged.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Do This Later

Is it apathy or procrastination? Does it matter? Do This Later.

Download this later.

Fire Hose

Photo taken at the Minnesota State fair, later manipulated in photoshop

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Lash the Oars to our Hands and Let us Pull

This is a video I made for a song by the band Ballydowse.  What?  You've never heard of Ballydowse?  They broke up a few years back, but before that they recorded two terrific albums.  Their music is hard to put into a category.  They combined Celtic and punk stylings with and eclectic variety of instruments and a radical left wing Christianity. 

This is The Rowing Song from their 2nd album Out of the Fertile Crescent (2000).

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Psalm 113 - Up from the Dunghill

Hallelujah! We usually say it as an exclamation. Something goes well or pleases us and we shout “Hallelujah.” But the Hebrew word – or words – is actually a command. Hallelu Yah. Hallelu - You (plural) Praise - Yah - a shortened form of God's name- Yahweh.

Hallelujah – praise you servants of Yahweh.
Hallelujah – praise the name of Yahweh.
Hallelujah – may Yahweh’s name be praised from now until forever.

It’s a command for everyone everywhere to praise Yahweh. From the rising of the sun in the East to the place where it sets in the west. People in all nations everywhere and through all time should praise Yahweh. Everyone should praise him because he is exalted over all the nations. His glory is beyond anything we could no or describe. The Psalmist then asks a rhetorical question, “Who is like our God?” Who could compare?

It’s thought by many scholars that this particular psalm was written after the Israelites Babylonian exile. Before the exile the people of Israel were largely an agrarian society – farmers working on ancestral lands passed down from father to son to son. They carefully marked the boundaries of these lands and were loathe to divide them. They believed that these lands had been given to their families by God and took it as their responsibility to keep the lands in their families through the generations.

They also believed that the harvest was a direct reflection of God’s favor towards them. If they had a bountiful harvest it was because they had been blessed by God – and because God blessed the righteous and the good, it was evident to them that if someone had a bountiful harvest it was because he was good. The rich and prosperous farmer was, of course, an honest and upright man.

The converse of that was true also; if a farmer had a poor harvest year after year and was forced to sell off his ancestral lands to avoid going into debt it must have been because God was displeased. We see this illustrated in the book of Job. Job who was, we are told, an honest and upright man and was quite prosperous. He had fields and flocks and houses and children. He had it all. But because of that cosmic wager between God and the Satan, he lost everything. He lost his fields and flocks and houses and children. He had nothing. When his three friends came to comfort him, they were convinced that he must have sinned somehow and offended God. How else could one explain Job’s dramatic reversal of fortune?

Before the exile the Jewish people believed God blessed the righteous with wealth and cursed the wicked with poverty. But in 596 B.C. King Nebuchadnezzar conquered Israel, destroyed Jerusalem and took the people away into foreign captivity. Many of them died during this exile, far from their homeland. But when King Cyrus came into power he decreed that the Jewish people could return home and begin rebuilding their nation.

When they got there, however, those ancestral homelands were not returned to them. Instead, they were confiscated and given to foreign landlords who expected a payment of tribute from the Jewish tenant farmers. They had nothing. They struggled to farm the land and to pay the tribute to their landlords. They lived in poverty.

But instead of seeing this as a curse from God they had a change in their thinking. They began to recognize that poverty wasn’t a curse from God, and that God loved them even in their poverty and cared for them in spite or (or even, because of) their poverty.

They began to realize that the high king of heaven was not just a far away God who only saw them from a distance, but was a king who would get down off this throne in order to help them.

...but he gets off his high horse
gets dirt on his hands…

He stooped down from that high and lofty throne and got right down into the squalid poverty with his people.

In the fracas and filth
in the fire and flood
in the trash and the tumors
the rash, and the nub
-from God Went Bowling by The Swirling Eddies *1

Those who had lost their farms and lost their ability to work were often found living around the town dung heap, the place where everyone would throw their garbage and refuse. There wasn’t plumbing or flush toilets so everyone brought their waste to the town refuse heap. And there the poor would scavenge for whatever bit of scraps they could find. Maybe a piece of fabric they could use as a blanket, or bone with a tiny bit of meat left on it that they could eat. This is where they lived - on the trash heap, on the dunghill, scouring over the rest of the communities refuse for their sustenance.
And the high king of heaven, the God of heaven and earth whose glory was above all the nations came down off this throne and got down on his hands and his knees, got dirt under his fingernails and got shit on his clothes in order to rescue his people. This was not something one would expect of a king.

Large Man: Who's that then?
Dead Collector: I dunno. Must be a king.
Large Man: Why?
Dead Collector: He hasn't got shit all over him.
-from Monty Python and The Holy Grail (1975)
Kings just don't do that sort of thing. They sit in their palace and they wear fine linen garments - clean clothes, and they are clean and washed. They don't get down into the filth with the people.

And what is more, in the city of Jerusalem the community dung heap was on the south side of the city in the valley of Gehenna. And when it got too full or too putrid, the valley would be set on fire to burn away the filth and garbage. Over time this burning smoldering place of filth became a figurative name for the place for the wicked dead, a site at the greatest possible distance from heaven. It was hell.

Imagine: the glorious king of heaven getting down off his throne to crawl down into this farthest place from heaven in order to lift up his people. And this is just what we have in the person of Jesus Christ, who did not consider equality with God something to be exploited but instead he put aside his glory and his divine power in order to get down into the filth and muck and mire with his people. He even allowed himself the humiliation of death on a cross and went down into the grave in order to lift up his people.

This is why we should praise him.
This is why his name should ring from the rising of the sun in the east to the place where it sets in the west.
This is why we should sing his praise both now and forever more.


*1 "God Went Bowling" by The Swirling Eddies on the Album Zoom Daddy, 1994 broken songs.

The Clouds Don't Care

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Psalm 113 - The Egyptian Hallel

Psalm 113

Psalm 113 - the text for tomorrow's sermon - is sometimes described as the "Egyptian Hallel" - and was sung in conjunction with the major Jewish festivals, particularly the Passover celebration.  At the Passover Psalms 113 and 114 are sung before the meal, and 115 - 118 afterwards.

Psalm 113 is a sort of "rags to riches" psalm - but not as we might expect.  The American dream is built upon a confidence that one can, with hard work and motivation, transcend the limitations of one's social class - that there is an ability to move between the social classes.  We see this hope reiterated in the popular aspects of our culture.  It's in our movies - like Rocky and Slumdog Millionaire and The Blindside.  It's in our game shows.  It's in our music - think of every hip-hop song about leaving the ghetto and becoming rich and famous.  In America one can go from rags to riches, from poverty to wealth, from obscurity to fame, if one works hard enough and has enough drive.... At least that is the dream.  The reality may be much less golden.

But the rags to riches aspect of Psalm 113 isn't based on the individual's motivation or hard work.  It comes, instead, as a gift from God.

Before their Babylonian exile, the Jewish people farmed ancestral lands handed down from father to son over generations.   And because they believed that God gave families the land they tilled, the harvest was a direct reflection of God's blessing.  Ideally, the rich and prosperous farmer was a righteous man; the two were linked. But after their return from exile those ancestral lands were confiscated - taken from them and given over to foreign landlords.  The Jewish people became tenant farmers and were expected to pay heavy taxes to their foreign rulers.   Under this occupation Israel began to change their thinking.  No longer did they identify with the rich and prosperous farmer (or strive to identify with him.)  Instead, they identified with with the poor man - the ones without land and burdened with tribute.  But their return to their homeland had given them hope.  Now they understood that God smiled upon the poor and had given them a place of honor.

Their rags to riches wasn't a hope that with enough hard work they could rise above their situation - but rather a confidence that no matter how poor they were, God smiled upon them and that it would be God who would lift them up from the dunghill.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Looking through the Alley

Photos taken in the alleys near downtown Fairmont, Minnesota.
Click on the pictures to see them enlarged.

This ain't no Holiday

The photos used in this picture were taken at the Mesker Park Zoo in Evansville, Indiana. The doodle was scanned from one of my old sketch books.

Click on the picture to see it enlarged.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Longing on Scarlet Street

A song of desperation using some dialogue from the 1945 movie Scarlet Street directed by Fritz Lang.


Also used in this song is a gasp from The Freesound Project and other assorted audio clips - one of which came from Sampleswap.

If you like the song you can leave a comment and/or download it here.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

I Would Rather be Here...

Photo taken at a cemetery in Hanson, Kentucky during a recent family reunion.

I added the epitaph in photoshop. 

Two more clouds

Photo taken somewhere in Indiana.

Photo taken in Finlayson, Minnesota.

The Clouds are Listening

Click the picture to see it enlarged.  Download the song here.

Here I Raise My Ebenezer

Eben-Ezer  (Hebrew lit. stone of  help)

Sorrowing I shall be in spirit,
Till released from flesh and sin,
Yet from what I do inherit,
Here Thy praises I'll begin;
Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Here by Thy great help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.

-from "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing"
by Robert Robinson

The source photos for this work were taken in Hanson, KY during a family reunion.  Click on the picture to see it enlarged

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Everything is perfect

Photo taken at the Mesker Park Zoo in Evansville, IN.  Doodles added later.


Monday, September 13, 2010

Dead End

Here Lies Johnny Yeast

Photo taken in Hanson, KY - Sept. 2010.

The Inscription on my Tombstone

Photo taken in Hanson, Kentucky. I have relatives in this cemetary, but I don't know them.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Friday, September 10, 2010

Down with Fashion

(Acrylic on fashion magazine advertisments)
Click on the pictures to see them enlarged

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Clouds are Out to Get Me

My 11 year old daughter tells me that this is funny.
Click the picture, if you dare, to see it enlarged.

The thing you’ve got to understand about Schrödinger

Half Tone Lamp
is that he was crazy, you see.
But not crazy like that guy who sits at
the corner of 5th and Wilson
and yells at everyone who passes by
about the menstrual cycles of Cornish hens.

No, Schrödinger was crazy like God.

He had this box, see,
(Schrödinger, not God,)
and in this box there was a cat,
or maybe there wasn’t,
or again, maybe both -

There was and there wasn’t a cat.
Crazy, right?

This is, he explained, all very scientific,
based on mathematical probabilities of the highest order.

Monday, September 6, 2010


My family recently took a trip to the Minnesota State Fair. We try to go to the state fair every year - whatever state we're in at the time. Our favorite is, of course, the MN fair, but we have also enjoyed the Indiana and Illinois state fairs as well.

Here are a few of the photos I took that day. I like small details.

Photos taken September 1, 2010 at the MN State Fair.
(Click on the pictures to see them enlarged)
Jeff Carter's books on Goodreads
Muted Hosannas Muted Hosannas
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